Emergency showers and eyewash stations - Top 6 reasons for non-compliance

Emergency showers and eyewash stations - Top 6 reasons for non-compliance

4/5/2017 - SPI

The first 10 to 15 seconds after exposure to a hazardous substance, especially a corrosive substance, are critical. Delaying treatment, even for a few seconds, may cause serious injury.

Emergency showers and eyewash stations provide on-the-spot decontamination. They allow workers to flush away hazardous substances that can cause injury.

Accidental chemical exposures can still occur even with good engineering controls and safety precautions. Emergency showers and eyewash stations are a critical initial first aid response to minimize the effects of accidental exposure to chemicals. As for alkaline and acid burns, studies show that immediate first aid from a properly functioning emergency shower and/or eyewash can have a major impact on victim outcomes – reducing mortality rates, the need for skin grafts, and the number of days spent in the hospital.

Emergency showers can also be used effectively in extinguishing clothing fires or for flushing contaminants off clothing.

The top 6 reasons for non-compliance

Recent research has shown that on average, up to 78%* of the emergency showers and eyewash equipment in the typical facility are not working correctly, and are not only non-compliant, but most importantly, not capable of providing proper first aid. This puts both the employer and employee at risk. The most common gaps in compliance are outlined below.

1. Incorrect application

The proper protection level should be based on potential danger. The properties of the chemical substances used by workers, and the tasks accomplished within the workplace, determine if emergency showers and eyewash stations must be installed. The MSDS is an excellent point of reference for determining the proper first aid response based on the potential chemical exposure. For certain tasks or in certain work areas, the risks can lead to face or eye injuries for the worker. Consequently, an eye and face wash station may be required. In other situations, a body part or the entire body can come into contact with chemical products. In these areas, a combination emergency shower with an eye and face wash may be more appropriate. A risk analysis can provide an evaluation of the potential risks inherent to the tasks and workstations. The selection of the appropriate emergency equipment – combination shower, eye and face wash station or both – must be adapted to the identified risks. The most common gaps in compliance deal with the incorrect emergency equipment – personal use bottles in place of an ANSI compliant device capable of the required 15-minute flush, or older equipment with an eye wash on a combination shower for chemical splash when an eye and face wash station is the more appropriate first aid response with the shower.

2. Flow too strong

The eyewash station should provide a controlled flow to both eyes at a velocity that is non-injurious. It is not uncommon to find the water flow to be too strong. This can result in great discomfort for the user causing the victim to avoid staying in the eyewash for the full 15-minute flush period, or in more severe cases, cause injury to sensitive eye tissue.

3. Flow too weak

A flow that is too weak will not sufficiently rinse the exposed area in the prescribed time. This is also a common reason for non-compliance and impacts the ability to provide proper first aid.

eyewash flow

4. Lack of proper flow pattern

The eyewash or eye and face wash station must rinse both eyes simultaneously. This is one of the most common reasons for non-compliance. The ideal method to check this requirement is to use an eye wash gauge. The water stream should cover both eye orbits on the gauge completely at some distance less than 8 inches above the heads.

5. Simultaneous use

A combination unit is designed to flush both the eyes and the body at the same time. A critical requirement is that the eye and face wash station and the shower need to maintain their minimum flow rates when both units are used simultaneously. This is typically the most common cause of non-compliance as often the flow to the eye and face wash station drops significantly when the shower is activated.

In addition to maintaining their flow rates, a combination shower and eye and face wash unit must be properly aligned to allow for simultaneous use by the same user.  

6. Water temperature

The 2014 ANSI standard recommends that the water should be “tepid” and defines this temperature as being between 16°C and 38°C (60°F and 100°F). Temperatures higher than 38°C (100°F) are harmful to the eyes and can result in permanent damage to sensitive eye tissue. Cold water (less than 16°C (60°F)) can cause hypothermia and may result in not rinsing or showering for the full recommended time (ANSI 2014). With thermal burns (injuries to the skin), the American Heart Association (2010) noted that water temperatures of 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F) help to cool the burn and that “cooling reduces pain, edema, and depth of injury.” (However, do not apply ice directly to the skin.)

Remember that any chemical splash should be rinsed for a minimum of 15 minutes, but rinsing time can be up to 60 minutes. The temperature of the water should be one that can be tolerated for the required length of time. Water that is too cold or too hot will inhibit workers from rinsing or showering as long as they should.

Experience has shown that despite weekly or monthly “checks”, there are significant gaps in compliance since in many cases, those doing the checks are not subject matter experts (SMEs) and have no formal training on the requirements of the standard, what to look for, and how to conduct a proper weekly or annual inspection of this type of equipment.
If you are unsure about the compliance of your installation, ask one of our experts to help you!

  • A detailed inspection report for every piece of equipment
  • An executive summary 
  • A troubleshooting guide identifying the key gaps in compliance, potential root causes, and most importantly, a list of potential solutions
  • A debrief meeting or Web conference to discuss the best practices and proposed solutions

*According to Haws Corporation inspections.
*Certain conditions apply.